Sunday, January 15th, 2017

“Administrating Eternity”: Contemplating Pipilotti Rist in the Wake of Trump

Pipilotti Rist : “Pixel Forest” at the New Museum

October 26, 2016 to January 15, 2017
235 Bowery, New York City, newmuseum.org

Pipilotti Rist, The Pixel Forest, 2016 installed at the New Museum in her show of that title
Pipilotti Rist, The Pixel Forest, 2016 installed at the New Museum in her show of that title

At the press preview for “Pixel Forest” at the New Museum, just days before the U.S. elections, Pipilotti Rist happened to mention that most of her staff is female. In view of who won, this has become especially meaningful.

In “Gravity and Grace”, Simone Weil writes: “The cause of war: there is in every man and in every group of men a feeling that they have a just and legitimate claim to be the masters of the universe – to posses it. But this possession is not rightly understood because they do not know that each one has access to it…through his own body.” In this show Rist offers a gateway to the intimacy of being in a body: the experience of “being inside” is prominent. What does it mean to be inside? How can it be described? And what does it reflect?

Installation view, fourth floor, Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest, New Museum, 2016.
Installation view, fourth floor, Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest, New Museum, 2016.

Starting from the museum’s second floor it is all about the senses: Administrating Eternity, 2011, is an installation containing thin transparent-white curtains that you can touch, while they hang from the ceiling and down to the floor. Oval-shaped nature films are projected freely in the space: a green field with sheep, as well as close-ups of flowers, trees and fruits. With soft, nurturing music in the background, there are six cone-shaped hubs that viewers can enter, watching video up-close and in solitude. The proximity is challenging, as you cannot escape the imagery. Six of Rist’s early works are presented this way, one in each hub. In one of them, When My Mother’s Brother Was Born It Smelled Like Wild Pear Blossom in Front of the Brown Burnt Sill, 1992, a woman is giving birth. The footage includes the cutting with scissors of the mother’s vagina, as well as the newborn’s first appearance. Although framed by blissful snowy mountains and clear blue sky, this is not easy viewing. But it carries with it great strength and something so real it hurts, while it also generates wonder and joy.

Pixel Forest, 2016, one flight up, is a beautiful LED-lights-installation that spills out across much of that floor. The soft pastel illumination is something you can almost literally touch in an area where a large rug with pillows is set on the floor to allow viewers to lounge, be immersed in, and dive into music and nature in two large projections (Mercy Garden, 2014, and Worry Will Vanish Horizon, 2014). The videos consist of close-up footage of body parts gently and passionately touching flowers, plants, and water. The grand finale of the exhibition takes place on the fourth floor. Here it is as if the viewer is inside a pond looking up, seeing the water, plants, and sunlight from the inside out through two moss-holes in the ceiling above, while lying on a bed, intimately, with others you may or may not know.

This combination of atmospheres creates a supporting space, as place where you are embraced and accepted. This womb-like interiority is quite the opposite of the outside perspective that is apparent today in the political realm. In a time when a president-elect seems driven to make judgments of people on the basis of their external features, encouraging atavistic male chauvinism, and public figures are striving to limit acceptance of women and sexual minorities, this show reclaims the body (female and male), its loving sexuality and its beauty in the most organic way. As the comedian Louis C.K. put it just before the November election on the Conan O’Brien show: “…to me it’s really exciting to have a first mother in the white house… because a mother she’s got it. She feeds you, and teaches you, protects you, she takes care of your shit.” Although Rist is not an American her show seems to offer a critical perspective on what we have missed by failing to choose a female president.